Finbow on Burroughs

Part one:

Off the plane after a seven-hour flight, through passport control, I’m going to be late. I sprint through customs. I’m booked on a coach from Manchester airport to Liverpool, there will not be another for three hours, and I don’t have enough money to catch a train. My ticket is for the 6:15. Uniform, eyes of a retarded sheep, outstretched arm, raised hand, wrist back, palm facing out. I don’t need this. I really do not need this.
“Woah, son,” he says.
“What?”
“Where have you come from?”
I want to say my mother’s cottage-cheese womb, the voodoo-enflamed loins of my father, the bulbous testicles of a Venusian sea-dragon. I bite my tongue and taste the stale airline food, luke-warm beer, the acid zest of my impatience.
“New York,” I say.
“Business?”
I am wearing black-and-white Converse high tops, ragged and patched Levis, a faded and barely-holding-itself-together Ramones T-shirt, my hair cropped except for a Tintin-like coif.
“Do I look like I’ve been to New York on fucking business, you cunt?” I think.
“No. Research,” I say.
“Oh, research,” he says, as if it is some rare and exotic animal.
“Yeah,” I say. “Look, my coach is due in 10 minutes.”
“Really? Open it up,” he says, pointing to my bag.
“Bollocks,” I think.
A drab olive holdall, rusted rosettes of old punk badges – Patti Smith, The Overcoat, The Shirts, Subway Sect, the Slits – scab the tatty canvas, making the bag appear scrofulous, diseased. I look at the customs man and he looks back at me. I don’t want to do this. I want to get on the coach, press my head against the cool window, and sleep all the way home. I fumble with the buckles, stabbing my finger in the process. Eventually, I open it, pull the flap over, and expose the contents.
“I’ve been doing research at Columbia University,” I say as an excuse for what he will find on top of my fusty clothes.
“………” he says.
“Yeah, at the Butler Library,” I say.
“……….” he says. He moves his hands within my holdall as if performing a caesarean section.
“You see, these books are part of my research on William Burroughs,” I say, sweat trickling down the sides of my face, dripping off my jaw onto my collarbone where it gathers in small pools.
“……….” he says, extracting something.
“For my PhD,” I say, as I look down at a book he lays out on the table as if it is a brick of Semtex. Titled Junkie, published by the New English Library in 1969, this particular edition’s cover depicts, on a lurid red background, a man’s arm, fingers furled, an oversized hypodermic syringe plunging into the purple tributary of an Amazonian delta of raised veins. I look at the customs man and he looks back at me. Continue reading

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